Wednesday, December 28, 2011

More Taking Stock

Wednesday, December 28, 2011—Long Beach, CA

Feeling tired. Still recovering from Christmas, too much food, drink, and socializing (I’m at heart a solitary creature). I’ve managed to get some work done for school the last couple of days, which is part of the reason I’m feeling a little burnt out. I’m trying to adopt a new policy/attitude about how I approach teaching. It’s simply taking up too much of my time; I don’t get paid anywhere near enough to justify the kind of hours I put in. I’ve decided to try and put in no more than four hours a day on school- related work, beyond the actual time I spend teaching. This will make for about a forty-hour work week. Anything that I can’t get done in that time simply will have to wait or will not happen. I think that’s a more than reasonable approach given my paychecks. Hopefully this will allow me time to write and live something approaching an enjoyable life. Teaching has not been a good time these last couple semesters. It either has to start becoming more fun or it needs to go away. Right now I can see things going either way ...

Speaking of teaching, I’ve been investigating teaching English in Greece. It looks like that might be a real option. More on this when I’ve got a better handle on how that might work.

Been frustrated in my recent attempts to write; nothing much is happening when I sit down at the keyboard (beyond my work on this diary). I can’t tell if this is because I’m so stressed and out of practice and therefore can’t settle into the groove or if it comes down to the fact that I don’t have much to say right now; when I try to write ideas that seem great in my head come out stillborn—it’s like they’re not quite ripe or something (to mix metaphors). Nothing much I can do about this except try and put myself in a good place overall in my life and then see what happens with my work—if the words aren’t there there not there, and if they are there and not ready to come out there’s nothing I can do to force the situation. (Man, how many long years has it taken me to accept that reality!)

I’ve decided to give Paul Bowles another chance. I picked up the Black Sparrow collection of his short stories and Virginia Carr’s biography on him from the LB library today. I’ve been reading too much non-fiction lately—I need stories, art. Despite the fact that I found the ending of Let it Come Down so disappointing, I love Bowles’ writing, stylistically. I’ve heard he’s a better short-story writer than novelist. I’m going into them with some fairly high hopes. Like I said, I love his approach and I’m very interested in the North African locales that dominated his work. I could really use a new writer in my world—my life’s immeasurably poorer when I’m not reading a writer a love.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Painting Stories ...

Sunday, December 25, 2011—Long Beach, CA

Having a fairly lazy Christmas day. I didn’t wake up until around ten, and then I just lay in bed reading for the next hour. Since getting up I’ve cleaned the apartment a bit, worked on some stuff for school, worked out, and I just finished on my day's Greek lessons (actually, when written down like this, my day doesn’t seem all that lazy—though it is my by standards, of late). I needed to relax a bit: I had a long Christmas Eve with the family over at my sister’s house, plus I’m not feeling that great—I think I’m fighting the edge of a cold.

It’s been a good Christmas so far: there’s no issues of note within the family and I didn’t receive, nor apparently have I given, any gifts that are off the mark. It’s also been good because nobody really went overboard on the gift giving. I like being with the fam and eating the good food that always comes down the pipe this time of year, but I don’t care for the commercial aspects of this season at all. We used to have a real problem in my family with smothering the holiday with overwrought gift giving. We seem to have gotten a handle on that, though, which has really improved things, from my perspective (for a lot of years I really didn’t care too much for Christmas). Tonight we’re going to top things off with what will no doubt be a great dinner at my aunt-and uncle-in-law’s house. Every Christmas, Bonnie, my aunt-in-law, picks a place in the world and cooks food from that region. This year she’s chosen Russia. I know very little about the cuisine of that country, but it should be interesting. If nothing else she’s told me we’ll be having caviar, which will be a first for me. I’m just hoping I can make it thru the night without this cold I seem to be fighting winning the battle. I often get sick around Christmas, mainly, I think, because it’s just after the school semester has ended and the stress and general wear and tear of the previous months finally catches up with me. I had to leave early one year, the year Bonnie did Indian food, which really pissed me off—because even though I was sick I was still really enjoying the meal. I’m crossing my fingers at the moment.

Between Greg having been in town and Christmas prep there really hasn’t been much time for much else. I did manage to burn my way thru a short book on the Barbary Wars, which has been interesting (I knew almost nothing about them going in). I’ve also still been working steadily on the first volume of Peter Gay’s two Enlightenment books. Reading a book on Plains Indians as well, as prep for a class I’m teaching. I ‘ve also been playing around—in an extremely small way—with the Greek book and an idea I have for a short story. Hopefully once Christmas has passed I’ll have time to really dig into them both—this forced hiatus from serious writing I’m going thru is really starting to piss me off.

Since I started working on the short story I just mentioned I’ve been playing with an old idea I’ve had for a book of short stories. For a long time I’ve wanted to experiment with writing stories that feature very little in the way of plot, of movement; I’ve wanted to write “stories” where the focal point in the feelings of the situation being described (or perhaps "essence" would be a better term for what I’m striving for). What I’d like to do is write short prose pieces that would take writing as close as it can go to painting, where the universe of the story is presented as a kind of crystalized moment (which in its composition of course implies all the moments leading up to the one being presented). What I guess I’m saying is that I want texture and color coming to the forefront, not for their owns sakes, but as the vehicles that carry the deeper aspects of the writing. I’ve always felt that viewing stories having a “setting” (or worse a “backdrop”) is a complete missing of the point. A story’s setting, in the end, is the story; a truly worthwhile piece of writing couldn’t possibly be divorced from the locale (in the deepest sense) in which it’s set. There are of course universal themes (all themes worth exploring are universal, I’d say), but there are flavors, routes of expression that come from specific places of origin—and these “flavors” are as much the story as anything that “happens” to any of the characters involved: if you can pull characters out of a story or transcribe its plot, you’re dealing with bad writing, the manipulation of stock characters and interchangeable scenes. All of this is a long way of saying that I want to “paint” stories, have the emotional-intellectual elements of the writing’s meaning be one with its compositional techniques.

I want to write Degas, in other words, Matisse, to be less obvious (and far more adventurous). Shit, I want to write Brice Marden if it’s possible (how would that even work?—I can give no reasonable answer, but I can sense it’s possible). I can’t be original in this quest, I know, but I also believe there’s a unique kernel in this little fantasy of mine, in my approach to this quest—which is more than enough to dream from, to write from …

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Dumb Broken Scooter Stress

Friday, December 16, 2011—Long Beach, CA

Done. I’ve finally made it thru my nightmare (or at least nightmarish) semester. True to form, it ended on a really stupid, ugly note. On my way to give my final yesterday morning my bike cut out in the middle of the intersection of Westminster and Springdale; a fuel pump/line issue, I’m sure. The one thing a professor can’t do is miss a final. So I pulled out my cell phone and was going to start calling people for a ride. As I was doing this, I realized that both my sister and mother—my two best hopes for a no-warning ride—had just moved and have new land-line numbers, which I had not yet put into my phone. I doubted that my sister would answer her cell at that time of the morning, but I tried it anyway. She didn’t answer. I then got desperate and started calling people, some of whom I haven’t talked to in months, hoping I might get lucky and find someone who was able and willing to truck me out to Irvine. No dice. Finally I decided to call the Auto Club and just get myself towed to work and then deal with my bike later. This should have been a good plan. But the Auto Club’s computers were down and a pickup that should have taken a half hour ended up taking nearly an hour and a half (luckily I left the house early to take care of some business on campus so I had more of a buffer time wise than I would normally have had). I ended up getting to campus a half hour late, stressed and a little angry. I was able to bring off the final, though, so I guess things turned out OK, but it was definitely a major drag of a morning.

Getting my bike “home” turned out to be a continuation of my dumb-ass morning. Though normally the Auto Club gives only one tow per breakdown I talked them into a second because the first one was so late and had inconvenienced me so much. Unfortunately I ended up having to wait just as long for this second tow, so long that by the time the flatbed got to me it was nearly rush hour, which meant a mostly slow freeway crawl all the way to Long Beach Motorsports. The fun wasn’t over, though. Literally the second I got out of the tow-truck’s cab the skies opened up and I got soaked in the five minutes max it took to get the bike off the flatbed. Then finally something cool happened. I was planning on walking the hour it would take me to get home, but Kim, a girl who works in the service department of LBMS offered to give me a ride home. My day, which started when I left the house at about 7:40 AM came to a soggy end about 6:00 PM.

As I was standing by various roadsides yesterday waiting for tow trucks, I really began taking in my general life situation in a very direct way. My life as I’m living it now simply isn’t working. I am overworked and bored and can see little in the way of a future on the path I’m on. Now more than ever I understand that it’s time for me to write—full time. I need to grab hold of my life and make it work the way I need it to work. All the things I’ve written about—about becoming a free agent, building up BSP, traveling more—needs to be what I strive for. Full-time teaching jobs are not what my life should be about. Nor should my life be centered in Southern California anymore. This place is just too expensive, too difficult … too mean. As I move thru this place I have a very hard time relating to most of what I have to deal with, people, infrastructure, politics, general values. I don’t know where I should go, though. A part of me just wants to head out somewhere in the world and teach English or something for a while. I need to keep BSP rolling, though, expanding. Which limits this kind of mobility. This is the main issue I have to resolve: how can I have the physical freedom I want/need and still have my press, my for-sure publishing outlet? Once I solve this I’ve solved a lot of other issues …

I think my current situation can be summed up with my current relationship to poetry. When I’m feeling right, in touch with the world around me I write and read poetry. Poetry to me is not about asking questions, but expressing answers; it happens when one has come to certain conclusions. I haven’t written a poem since 2009. For a year or so before this I wrote some of the best poems I’ve ever written (which were also some of the best things I’ve written period). My poetry drought coincides almost perfectly with when I started teaching more or less full time. Not an accident, I’m sure.

Beginning to think even more seriously about the Greek book, about its structure, tone, it’s reason for being. I like when the thing’s heading in my mind. I’m going to start on it in the next week or so.

Been reading some. Still working the first book of Peter Gay’s Enlightenment duo. Reading Penguin Renaissance Reader as well. I have a book on Magellan that I want to tackle as well. Too much reading theses day, I think. Not enough writing.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Treading Water

Monday, December 12, 2011—Irvine, CA

Pouring rain today, but patchy: there are spots here and there where the sun is shining thru and there’s hardly a drop to be found (there are also areas where the sun is out and the rain still coming down hard). I had a wet, miserable, and dangerous trip out to work today—this is not the kind of weather in which to be driving a 50cc scooter. I did see one of the best rainbows I’ve ever encountered. As I turned from Edwards onto McFadden it was suddenly there: a pastel green, yellow, and rose arch that looked like it was right out of some kids picture book terminating into a bright sunny section of McFadden some mythical distance beyond. Makes one understand the basis for religion, in the days before our hyper-empirical world, before the triumph of materialism.

Feeling myself slipping out of school mode. This was time in months that I spent a day only doing non-teaching related things. It felt good, to the point where it’s got me back to really trying to figure out how to end this sojourn in the academic world. My current job has been much on my mind for another reason as well. The full-time position that I knew was coming down the pipe at Irvine Valley finally has arrived; I have until February 28th to apply for it. Though I’ve already contacted some people about writing rec letters for me, I’m leaning against going for it. Teaching has been a good experience, but I’m a writer—and to take a full-time academic job would all but end that. I’m realizing that I’m facing the same decision I did when I decided to bail out on the Ph.D. program at UC Santa Barbara several years ago. Then I felt my true identity, my true purpose on this planet being slowly devoured by my then still-widening commitment to anthropology. I made the right decision then when I left UCSB and avoiding this job is probably the right decision now. Still, it’s hard to pass up the opportunity to make some decent money and not have to live a hand to-mouth-existence. I just have to remember that I’ve got two great books in the can and more on the way, that I’m not a wannabe writer like a I was a decade ago. I am now a real writer, which means, by definition, that that’s my future as well. Still, I’ll agonize about all this for a while—that just seems to be my nature …

What else. Feeling a strong need to start the Greek book. I’ve decided to print up my diary entries from last summer and start reworking them into … something. I’m beginning to see the book as a collection of travel sketches, connected in an Impressionist kind of way more than thru any linear narrative. This will work well for a lot of reasons, but perhaps most importantly it will solve the time issues that will crop up because the book will be based on at least two trips; I can mix and match experiences, collapse time, do whatever I need to make things flow and not have to worry about it all making temporal sense. This will also probably mean that each section of the book can be read on its own, which will also mean that I might be able to sell a few of them as travel pieces with little to no reworking. Getting excited about this project. As I mentioned in the previous entry, I’m really feeling the need to write these days—it’s time for another go round with the muse …

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Little Mental Roundup

Thursday, December 08, 2011—Orange, CA

Feeling pretty good today. The semester is coming to an end and I’m finally getting to catch my breath a little bit, finally finding the time to integrate other activities into my life. I have a bunch of work I need to do over the break, but I’ll also be recharging my batteries, which is something I desperately need to do.

For the last several weeks I’ve been feeling a bit out of it at times, kind of lost. I’ve begun to realize that this is because for months now I haven’t been writing (except of course here). When I stop writing like this I begin to lose my center and to a lesser extent my identity; I begin thinking of myself more of an anthropologist, which sucks, because in terms of my employment situation in this field at least, I’m a pretty low-end social scientist. Last night I reread the tiny bit of work I’ve done on the third Backwaters book and really liked what I read; I could most definitely see its potential. More importantly, reading those few pages really reminded me who I was and what I should be doing. Somehow I’m going to design my life next semester so that I can write regularly, on the Greece book for sure and perhaps Backwaters three as well. Social science is only part of what I do—a relatively small part. When I understand this and can place it in the proper context in my life I’m happier, and also a better teacher and writer—everything fits together and makes sense, in other words.

I’ve also realized (once again) that it’s time for me to break out as a writer, for me to find a substantial audience; I can just feel it in my bones that something’s about to happen for/with me, that something’s needs to happen. I’ve done all the prep, put in all the hard work. I have the books and my books have something to say—they matter in this world. As usual, though, I’m not sure how to proceed, how to go from where I am to where I need to be and should be. The first step, I know, is to throw myself back out there. I need to get the Kindle version of Heaping Stones out and then put out a small run of Edgewater, my long-delayed poetry book. Then once I have some fresh work out it will be time to launch Backwaters of Beauty (either thru an outside publisher of myself). This will all begin happening soon, within a matter of weeks. Then, slowly perhaps, everything will begin to change. Like I just said, I know I have written stuff that matters—once I launch it it’s only a matter of time before it finds it audience and its route to that audience. Exciting times. Or at least they’re about to be.

As has been the case for months, there’s not too much going on in my day-to-day life. Hopefully I’ll be heading up to Santa Cruz for a quick trip over break. Steve S. is coming down from Sacramento in January, and it will be really nice to see him. For now, though, it’s just getting thru the semester and then Christmas prep. Still working on my Greek (though not quite as much as I’d like—busyness and evening exhaustion have caused me to slack off a bit). Still reading a bit as well. Looking forward to more human contact in the coming weeks. I’ve become far too much of a loner these last several months—I’ve surpassed even my extreme need for solitude, which is saying quite a bit.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

This and That / Revolutions

Thursday, December 01, 2011—Orange, CA

Busyness (as usual); I haven’t had the time to write anything here for two weeks. It’s probably just as well, as I haven’t had much to say—getting thru the end of the semester and the Thanksgiving holiday has pretty much obliterated most of my creativity, my ability to think clearly outside the little box I’ve been working in. I can see the end of the semester, though—in just a little over two weeks I’ll be done. I can’t wait until I can start a blog post with something other than a chronicling of my annoyance at the rhythms of my day-to day life.

I have managed to continue my Greek studies. I sent away for a series of introductory Greek videos and CDs, which should really help me with my pronunciations. They of course will also give me other routes to internalizing the language; just working from books has started to a get a little frustrating, in that I’m not sure if I’m getting the sounds right, and because working from one angle like this gets boring. However, I’m still enjoying Greek a great deal; I’m just getting anxious to kick it up to the next level.

Somehow I’ve managed to get in some reading as well. The week before last I finished the Let it Come Down, the Paul Bowles novel I started a few weeks ago. The last quarter of the novel was very disappointing. After building up a fascinating universe amongst the exiles of Tangier Bowles abandons most of his characters to follow one of them as he leaves the City for Morocco’s Spanish zone. The novel completely breaks down when he does this, to the point where over two-hundred pages of some of the better writing I’ve ever read seemed kind of pointless. It’s been a long time since I’ve been so high on the first part of a novel only to be so disappointed at its end. I’ve read that The Spider’s House, another Bowles novel I was planning on reading, sinks itself in the same way. I think I’ going to back off him for a while: at this point I think I’d be too leery of where his books might lead to really enjoy them. Still, he’s a fascinating writer whose stuff is about topics and places that really interest me, so I’m sure I’ll give him another go round at some point.

Other than Bowles, I’ve been delving into texts for my Native Americans class I’ll be teaching next semester. I’ve been reading chapters from Cambridge’s History of Native North America and have been really enjoying The Four Voyages, which is a compilation of writings by Columbus and other early chroniclers of his journeys, including his son. Columbus’ own words are especially fascinating. I’m not sure what role what I’m learning from this book will play in the class, but the perspective its giving me can do nothing but increase my depth of knowledge, which is always a good thing.

Not much going on besides work and reading. Been watching the police and the mayor chase Occupy L.A. from the scene. What an asshole Villaraigosa is. I’ve always known he was a slimy player, but I thought he’d at least fake it a little bit better than this, not side with the moneyed powers so openly and quickly (I mean, on paper at least he a fair bit left of center). My favorite recent blathering of his happened early in the demonstrations when he claimed the need to remove the protesters because of the toll they were taking on the lawns and trees downtown. In other words, the price of having to re-sod a park is too high a one to pay for the people’s right to assemble and protest, for democracy! What’s really telling about the L.A. situation is the way these protesters have been treated in relationship to the homeless community.

There has essentially been a homeless tent city in downtown L.A. for decades. While of course these people are sometimes rousted by the cops, as a group they’ve been tolerated, have become part of the everyday scene in this part of the city. The Occupy protesters, however, were immediately seen as a problem by the City government and police. The main difference I can see is that the latter are challenging the system, questioning the way the city, state, country, and world are run—they’re challenging the global-capitalist structure, the true powerbases of the planet's political sycophants. The homeless, on the other hand, are seen as victims, annoyances that have no ability to take on the world order that has been part of what's led to their homeless. In a way this attitude is a good sign. It shows that the people in charge understand how vulnerable they are, how much power we the people really have; they know that the system they set up is a house of cards the rest of us can knock over with only a moderate amount of organization and drive. They’re of course fighting back the wrong way (as they usually do). Instead of trying to stifle protest they should be trying to make the income and power distribution of the world a touch more equal—for if they do not they’re only increasing the pressure and anger in the general populace and risking inviting much greater losses down the road. In other words, if they give a little they’ll probably get the people off their back and be able to continue their general pillaging, (for a bit longer, at least).

A look back to the U.S, in the 1930s really backs up my point, I’d say. It’s become a cliché, but Roosevelt really saved capitalism—by interjecting a modest amount of socialism to counter its more extreme tendencies. If we would have had another four years or more of Hoover-like policies (or non-policies) this country could very well have experienced a leftist and perhaps all out communist revolution. Obama has turned out to be our era’s Hoover light, in that his policies exist primarily to meet the needs of the rapacious one percent. But to repeat, Obama is the “light” version of this mentality—he does not completely ignore the needs of the vast majority of the country’s people.

If those of the financial world’s upper echelon got what they claim to want policy wise it would mean a complete crushing of the middle class of this nation (what’s left of it anyway). With the middle class gutted we would become a country of angry newly poor people with personal and cultural memory of how things used to be, could be (we also have two-hundred plus years of the mythology of classlessness and upward mobility to stoke our anger and inspire our dreams of the future). If this were to happen, if we were to find ourselves with an ultra-right Republican House and Senate topped by a President Gingrich (or someone similar) this country would become radicalized in no time, matching the speed of the collapsing economy and the crumbling of our last (somewhat) democratic institutions. What happens at this point is hard to say, in that we no longer have a convenient counter-point to capitalism in Marxism. What would for sure happen, though, is a revolution that would make the Arab Spring look like a mild warm-up action. And since the economy of this nation is more tightly linked than ever with the rest of the world’s finances it would become a massive world-wide movement. Again, I’m not sure of the specifies at this point, but the pseudo free-market capitalism of today would be a thing of the past and elite heads would role (in some cases literally) throughout the world.

All of this has gotten me to thinking about what would be best electorally for this country in the long run. To continue with the Obama and a right-leaning Congress will probably mean no major changes in a system that’s eventually bound to collapse—in other words, we’d just be kicking the revolution down the road a ways. However, an ugly reactionary government would push us over the cliff in a matter of a few years at most—and maybe that’s what we need. To bumble along like we’re doing means a slow bleeding to death of the potential of most of our lives, years of low-to-moderate levels of misery. One big blast of stupidity, though, followed by the cathartic, but relatively short-lived super pain of a post-collapse revolution, might mean better lives for us all more quickly (those of us who survive, that is).

The BIG problem with this is of course the military firepower at the disposal of anyone in power, which includes nuclear weapons. Though a part of me just wants to push the destruct button on our system and get it over with quickly another part of me realizes that the price for this has the potential to be far too high. The third path, and best in my opinion, would be to build a movement with electoral force that comes out of the Occupy movement. It’s hard to see how this might work, beyond a progressive take-over of the democratic party, in the same way the far right has taken over the Republican party (a third part is possible, but given the way the system is set up, a lot harder road to travel). This would have to be a true internal revolution, though, or, again, we’d just be kicking the can down the road. Is this possible? I hope so—I don’t like any of the alternatives very much.